CAIRO: On Monday, two journalists were ordered into pre-trial detention for 15 days over a slew of accusations that include attempting to overthrow the regime and disrupt the constitution.
Amr Badr and Mahmoud el-Sakka, who deny the accusations, were arrested Sunday in a police raid at the Journalists Syndicate, where both were staging a sit-in against assaults on journalists, including house raids.
“Authorities in Egypt are abandoning all restraint in their efforts to intimidate and silence the press,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said in a Monday statement. “Egypt’s government should open an immediate investigation into this violent raid, immediately release Amr Badr and Mahmoud al-Sakka, and stop persecuting journalists for doing their jobs.”
The “storming” of the syndicate has been slammed by journalists who describe it as an “unprecedented” move in the syndicate’s history, and a continuity of police harassment against them.
The move came after almost two weeks of police surrounding the syndicate following protests that erupted outside the building against a deal that transfers the control of two Red Sea islands into Saudi waters.
A statement from the Interior Ministry Monday denied the “storming,” instead stating that the journalists were arrested peacefully and with a warrant. This statement has been denied by the Journalists Syndicate which has called for an open sit-in and the dismissal of the Interior Minister.
Scores of journalists were reportedly arrested during the renewed islands protests on April 25, causing further protests against police harassment.
Tuesday, which marks the World Press Freedom Day, comes as many journalists are being put behind bars and censored in Egypt.
In its 2015 report, the CPJ ranked Egypt as the second worst jailer of journalists worldwide, stating that Egypt’s imprisonment of journalists is “at an all-time high.”
Al-Masry Al-Youm, a private newspaper, quoted Khaled el-Balshy, head of the Freedoms Committee at the syndicate, as saying that around 42 journalists are either currently facing, or are being threatened with, jail in Egypt, in April statements.
Although some of the journalists arrested were caught while on duty, they face charges not linked to their work, and are mainly accused of having affiliations with a banned group.
Photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also known as Shawkan, was arrested while covering the dispersal of a pro-brotherhood sit-in in Rabaa al-Adawiya in August 2013, yet he only stood trial in February 2016. He is facing what rights groups have described as “trumped up” charges of affiliation with the banned Islamist group and attempted murder.
In April, the advocate group Journalists Against Torture Observatory (JATO) reported an increase in violations against journalists in the first quarter of 2016 by 77.6 percent compared to the same period last year.
The violations included censorship, assault, damaging equipment and imprisonment. Most of the violations were committed by governmental bodies, with the Interior Ministry being responsible for 24 of the 222 cases recorded, according to JATO report.
In the 2016 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters without Borders, Egypt dropped to 159.
In December 2015, a network of 81 Egyptian lawyers launched a task-force to defend journalists and bloggers subjected to violations while doing their job.